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UC Riverside psychologist explores human perception, finds 'wow factor'

Faces tell the stories in UC Riverside Professor Larry Rosenblum's ecological listening lab, as volunteer test subjects show that they can "read" unheard speech -- not just from lips, but from the simple movements of dots placed on lips, teeth and tongue.

They can also recognize people's voices just from seeing their faces, and vice versa, and seem to be able to distinguish among a variety of rooms on campus just from their echoes.

"We get people ready for a test and tell them what we want them to do, and a lot of them think there's absolutely no way they'll be able to do that," said Rosenblum, whose field is perceptual psychology. "Some are very surprised when it turns out that they can."

Rosenblum has given test subjects quite a few such surprises. For example, participants in his work have shown that they can determine the locations of objects by listening to echoes as noise bounces off them. Other test subjects have used room echoes to figure out where they are on campus -- blindfolded.

Rosenblum's research explores speech, faces and hearing from an ecological perspective. Ecological psychologists study the ways humans perceive and act in natural environments. The emphasis is on identifying the information available to people's senses, rather than the mental processes by which they interpret it, he said.

"One thing these projects all have in common is the 'wow factor,'" Rosenblum said of his work in audio speech, visual speech and face recognition.Test subjects routinely glean more information than they expect from faces."We all read lips to some degree, even when we don't know we're doing it," Rosenblum said. "We also read faces. The ways people's faces move as they speak adds to what we comprehend."

The ambient sound in any room also offers more information than people might expect, Rosenblum said. One experiment asked subjects to listen to recorded sounds and try to recognize where on campus the recordings were m
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Source:University of California - Riverside


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